‘I feel trapped’: The mothers going without food so their children can eat

Feed the Future: ‘My body has got used to it but mentally it’s traumatic,’ one mother tells David Cohen

Monday 17 October 2022 21:05 BST
Felicia Boshorin, CEO of Spring Community Hub charity and food bank, prepares to hand out vegetables
Felicia Boshorin, CEO of Spring Community Hub charity and food bank, prepares to hand out vegetables (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

A mother says she has been forced to “train” herself reduce her daily food intake to “leftovers at dinner” in order to feed her three children, a sign of the escalating hunger crisis facing families.

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Amina, who worked three days a week as the financial manager of a charity before being made redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic, says she eats just once a day so as to have enough to feed her children, aged six, four and one.

The 42-year-old, who is a graduate, says: “The kids have Rice Krispies for breakfast but I have trained myself to hold back because I need the cereal and milk to last. I don’t have lunch either. For dinner, I usually cook rice or pasta with beans. I let my children eat first and I have what’s left over.”

She adds: “Sometimes they ask, ‘Mummy, why are you not eating?’ I tell them I already ate. If there is nothing left, I drink my tea and go to sleep hungry. At first, my body was craving things. It was incredibly hard.”

Tears fall down her cheeks as she speaks: “My body has got used to it but mentally it’s been traumatic. I have lost 10 kilograms in a few months. People stop me in the street and comment on how much weight I’ve lost. Some even do so admiringly. Little do they know. You can’t tell them that actually you don’t eat because you sacrifice for your children and that there is not enough money to buy food for everyone. You can’t knock on people’s doors and ask for food because they will judge you.

“It’s this secret I hold all on my own.”

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Amina’s words highlight the need for the Feed the Future campaign with The Independent, which calls on the prime minister Liz Truss to extend free school meals to all families in receipt of universal credit.

With winter approaching, Amina is worried about escalating heating bills and the rising cost of living. “We are on a pre-paid meter which is the most expensive,” she says. “If you don’t have energy, you can’t cook. Buying pre-cooked food is too expensive. It makes me feel trapped. I wish I could go back to work but my youngest is too little and childcare costs are crazy.”

Amina attends a weekly food bank at Spring Community Hub near her south London flat in Peckham to help her top up. She is on universal credit and her two oldest get free school meals. She doesn’t know how she would cope without this support, she adds.

“Kids need three meals a day in order to manage. Thankfully, they’re too young to notice that I am not eating and I would never allow them to. That would break my heart. I never ever want them to feel hungry. Or guilty.”

Felicia Boshorin: ‘It’s awful, we’re seeing more and more working people now and people with degrees and qualifications’
Felicia Boshorin: ‘It’s awful, we’re seeing more and more working people now and people with degrees and qualifications’ (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Felicia Boshorin, chief executive of Spring Community Hub, says she has regularly taken calls from mothers like Amina desperate for “pre-cooked food” because “they don’t have the cash to pay the gas or electricity to cook it”.

“It’s awful, we’re seeing more and more working people now and people with degrees and qualifications,” she says.

‘Mum, they said I couldn’t have lunch today’

Samantha [not her real name], 44, who also frequents Spring Community Hub food bank, is married with four children and says that she had gotten herself into “school lunch debt” with the catering company at her sons’ secondary school.

The full-time mother says: “My younger two get free school meals because we live in Southwark and they are one of the [four] boroughs in London that provide universal free school meals to all primary school children, but the two older boys are in high school and don’t get a free lunch.

“I have savings from when I worked which puts me above the £16,000 threshold so I don’t get universal credit, but with my husband now unemployed for two years, we live entirely off our savings and we are struggling. School lunches cost us £2.70 each a day. You are supposed to pay up front but I often get into school lunch debt and I currently owe just over £100.”

She adds: “Sometimes I have to call the school because the catering company refuse my son a meal because we are in arrears. My boys come home and tell me, ‘Mum, they said I couldn’t have lunch today’. It cuts me up. Sometimes they don’t have breakfast at home because we run out or they leave the little that’s there for the younger ones or they’re in a rush. It means they won’t have eaten all day. They usually come home with headaches.”

Samantha has a degree in criminology and worked for the police and prisons as an outreach and probation worker but stopped because it was “too stressful to combine with mothering”. She says: “We live on the fourth floor of an estate, seven of us in a three-bedroom because my brother-in-law lives with us as well. I have three boys all sharing one room while our daughter sleeps with me and my husband. We spend around £250 on food a month but it’s not enough, it’s just not enough.”

Becoming emotional, she adds: “It goes deep. If we get a box of seven pieces of chicken, I let them eat and I’ll have the gravy and rice leftovers. I serve myself only after they have eaten. Right now, the two boys are going through a growth spurt and they need it.

“Sometimes the dinner doesn’t stretch and I will go for something else, like a piece of toast. This is a new thing. It never used to happen but with everything getting so much more expensive, I must sacrifice myself for the sake of the children.”

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